Jesus is the anchor of our souls. To Him we have fled for refuge from the wrath to come (Hebrews 6:18-19). But when we waver in our confidence in Christ, our confidence that we will escape God’s wrath always wavers also. When we waver in our confidence in Christ, we do not lose our salvation as some claim, but we lose some of our confidence that we are saved.
One of my blessings this Thanksgiving season is the theology forum at www.gracecentered.com. I joined it a couple of weeks ago, and so far it has been a great blessing. The discussions there have confirmed to me that New Life in Christ Jesus is a timely book that properly addresses our needs today.
One of the discussions in which I have been involved is the thread titled, “Once saved always saved is wrong.” Both sides of the argument are well-represented with vigorous debate. But one of the shortcomings of the format is that it is not conducive to lengthy responses. That is one of the strengths of writing a book. You get lots of space to lay out your case.
The following is an excerpt from the fifth chapter of New Life in Christ Jesus, and it addresses head-on one of the passages only touched on lightly in the forum…
Wavering Trust in Christ Loosens Our Anchor
The hope we have in Christ is an anchor for our soul. It is sure and steadfast. And it gives strong consolation to us who have fled to Christ for refuge from God’s wrath. But, as I said before, our continued confidence in Christ is not automatic, but is something we must do all the time. Because if we don’t, we pay a high price:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 10:26–31)
This is perhaps the most troubling passage in the entire Bible, especially for Christians. At first glance, it appears to be saying that we must remain faithful to Christ to the end in order to stay saved. And if we sin (undefined as to what sin it is) after we have come to know Him, then we can never be forgiven of our sins again.
But this view contradicts what we know about God’s grace, because we know that none of us deserves salvation in the first place. And it contradicts the definition of eternal life, because it is not “eternal” if it lasts only for a short time then is lost. And it goes against everything we know about what keeps us saved, because we know God has promised to protect us from everything that would otherwise separate us from His care, even our sins. If He didn’t exercise that power, then none of us would survive.
So, because we do not like it, do not want it, and do not believe in this explanation of the passage, we look for another. And the easiest explanation to piece together does not include us as the subjects of the message at all, but only the lost. We see the lost as having rejected God’s offer of forgiveness in Christ. They are the ones who have insulted God by counting as worthless the sacrifice that could have saved them. They are the ones who have spurned God’s grace and are saying, “I don’t need your help. I’m good enough on my own.” We all know and believe that Jesus is man’s only way of salvation, so it is easy for us to understand that everyone who rejects Jesus Christ also gives up any hope of being saved.
This interpretation seems to fit both the words in the passage and our understanding of the way salvation works. But the problem with this view is that Hebrews 10:26–31 was not written to the lost to warn them of what awaits them for rejecting Christ, though it should serve as a warning to them. It was written to Christians.
It is clear that the passage is for us because the writer uses the word “we” twice in the first verse when He says, “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth” (verse 26). Therefore, it is also “we” who are the ones who would suffer a “certain fearful expectation of judgment” (verse 27). That “we” refers to the saved is evident in the writer’s use of the word “therefore” that starts the passage, which points back to the previous paragraph (which compels us to be steadfast in our confidence in Christ). That it is about us is also bolstered by the fact that the writer’s concluding paragraphs, which immediately follow the one in question, are also clearly about us, especially Hebrews 10:35–39.
But the message is hard to hear because of all the horrific things it says about those who waver in their confidence in Christ. But what we should see in the passage is an explanation of what happens in our hearts when, for whatever reason, we turn away from confidence in Christ. This passage was written to Christians to warn us that in confronting our sins and our sinfulness that we must learn to let Jesus’ sacrifice be enough for us. Because, it says, if we waver in our confidence in Christ, then we will have “a certain fearful expectation of judgment.”
Lacking trust in Christ is the opposite of steadfast confidence in Him. And a certain fearful expectation of judgment is the opposite of a clear conscience. And because there is a cause and effect relationship between trusting Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and having a clear conscience, if we waver in our confidence in Christ, we cannot avoid feeling guilty for our sins. Trusting in His sacrifice is the only way to dispose of our guilty feelings for sin.
The remedy for faltering in confidence in Christ is simple—begin again to place all our weight on Him. Then He will take away our guilty conscience, and our expectation of judgment will end (1 John 1:9). With a clear conscience, and with full assurance before Him, we will weather all storms, and we will reap the rewards that trusting Him brings.
Think for a moment about the underlying beliefs of two different groups of Christians who tend to waver in their confidence in Christ—the legalistic (Gal. 5:3–4) and the myopic (2 Peter 1:9).
The legalist focuses on God’s laws and thinks that rightness with God is maintained through obedience. He does not really believe that his flesh is corrupt beyond repair, but thinks that through discipline he can train his flesh to be good. In the process, he denies his continuous need for Christ’s forgiveness, and he rejects the true righteousness and holiness he possesses in Jesus Christ. With his confidence placed in his own ability to obey the law instead of in Christ, he always has a nagging suspicion that his performance is not good enough. And he expects that ultimately he will have to pay for his shortcomings.
The myopic person focuses on the law too. But, unlike the legalist, he does not lean on his ability to perform but on his inability to perform. He sees his sins as huge, and he walks around all day with a “woe is me” attitude. He is not mindful that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for his sins. As a result, he refuses to acknowledge the forgiveness that Christ won for him when He died for his sins and rose again. With wavering confidence in Christ, he lives with a certain fearful expectation of judgment.
God does not like it when we are legalistic or myopic because these attitudes discount and dishonor Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us. So, when we are legalistic or myopic, our lack of trust in Christ gives us a taste of the wrath God has reserved exclusively for unbelievers. And God uses those guilty feelings for our good, to lead us back to Christ (Gal. 3:24). And He calls us back to Him with these words:
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
And when God succeeds in drawing us back to the forgiveness we have in Christ, we need to take advantage of the opportunity—and stay there. We should not get off our knees at the feet of Jesus, but we should stay there with all our strength. If we tend towards legalism, He says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). If we tend towards myopia, He says, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (Heb. 10:35).